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Our work at Hafod y Llan

Shepherd and sheep dogs driving sheep down the Watkin Path at Cwm Llan on Hafod y Llan farm, Snowdonia, Wales
Shepherd and sheep dogs driving sheep down the Watkin Path at Cwm Llan on Hafod y Llan | © National Trust Images / Joe Cornish

Hafod y Llan is the largest farm managed by the National Trust, sat on the slopes of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) and home to cattle and beautiful landscapes. Since the purchase of the farm in 2000, we've been managing the farm to protect and restore its most sensitive habitats, like the upland heaths and blanket bogs. Read on to find out about our work on the farm.

Life on the farm

The farm team consists of Farm Manager, Arwyn Owen and three shepherds, Elgan, Roger and Trefor. The work peaks during lambing season in early spring, shearing in early summer and the gathering of stock off the higher slopes in early autumn.

Hafod y Llan is home to Welsh mountain ewes, Welsh Black cattle and a couple of alpacas.

Nurturing nature on the farm

Part of the farm is designated as a National Nature Reserve and is rich in blanket bog, heath and juniper habitats as well as important oak woodlands.

The team work closely with our conservation ranger and area rangers to ensure the land is managed in a way that benefits nature. We're planting more trees, monitoring the vegetation and repairing eroded footpaths, in addition to actively shepherding the flock so as to move the sheep away from sensitive plants.

A farm that’s fit for the future

In a bid to reduce the farm’s carbon footprint and move towards a more sustainable, cleaner future, renewable technology has been installed on the farm – from a solar panel on the cattle shed roof, to a biomass boiler heating the office and a ground source heat pump heating Hen Dy holiday cottage. The steep slopes and abundance of water also mean that a hydro-electric scheme was able to be installed.

A warden cutting down trees on the Hafod y Llan estate, Snowdonia, Wales
Area Warden, felling trees on the Hafod y Llan estate | © National Trust Images / Paul Harris

Conservation shepherding at Hafod y Llan

By combining traditional shepherding skills with current conservation objectives, Hafod y Llan is leading on an innovative trial for habitat management. Since 2014, a shepherding project has been funded through a Section 16 Agreement with Natural Resources Wales.

Sheep numbers have been halved from the original 4,000 count, and a herd of Welsh Black cattle has been introduced to graze the mountain and woods in the summer. By 2010, habitats were showing good signs of recovery with vegetation growing taller and finally having the chance to bloom and set seed. However, this also resulted in localised under grazing and over grazing which has not been good for the habitats.

To manage where the sheep graze a full-time shepherd was employed. Every day, the shepherd carefully moves sheep out of the sensitive sheep-free zones, and into the grazing zones. By 2015, a second shepherd was secured in order to provide cover seven days a week, for most daylight hours.

Challenges of a mountain shepherd

Shepherding sheep for conservation has not yet become a popular option in the UK, although it is widely used in the Alps and Pyrenees.

This is the first known example of full time shepherding for conservation on Welsh and English mountains. Apart from the cold and wet climate challenging British shepherds, one of the main challenges with this project is the way Welsh mountain sheep graze.

Managing the hefts

At Hafod y Llan, sheep graze the open mountain within their hefts, or ‘cynefin’ in Welsh. Each ewe has her own 'territory' which she will teach to her replacement ewe lamb, ensuring that the flock is evenly distributed across the mountainside. In this way, there is no need for walls or fences between farms.

Conservation shepherding at Hafod y Llan needs to focus on modifying the existing hefts. Sheep hefted to the upper mountain ridges need to be re-heft to lower slopes, away from the sensitive ridges. This will take years, until the new generation of sheep have replaced the old ewes.

The changing landscape

The vision for Hafod y Llan is to have flower rich mountain tops paired with a grazed valley bottom. In this way, key sites will improve for nature conservation while maintaining a working hill farm system.

The vegetation and sheep are being monitored. The recovery of plants will provide evidence of the efficacy of shepherding. The impact of shepherding on hefted flocks is also of great interest. This information will be valuable for the successful implementation of shepherding on other sensitive mountain sites.

Visitors sat in woodland by the Glaslyn river, Craflwyn and Beddgelert, Wales


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